Using their own engineering expertise, the Smith family were able to successfully update their own facilities to cope with increased numbers by building a new dairy facility built last year. Katrina Macarthur reports.
The Smith family from Ayrshire has made huge investments within their farming and construction businesses over the past two decades. And last year they completed their own state-of-the-art dairy facility which has not only resulted in improvements to cow comfort and production, but also overall efficiency.
William and Marion Smith, together with their son Tom, his wife Louise, and their young family of Emily (8) and Isla (4), farm at Bottoms Farm, near Stewarton, which is home to a 220-cow Holstein herd and the family’s long-established business, William Smith Engineering.
Bottoms Farm has been in the family since 1947 when William’s father secured the original 28 hectare (70 acre) unit along with additional rented ground and started out with a few cows and hens.
It was William himself who went on to establish the engineering and construction business in 1969, after leaving school at 15 years old in 1965 and serving his time as a welder fabricator at Robert Howie and Sons, Dunlop.
He initially made gates, rails and cubicles and worked from a small building at the farm.
In 1980, William and Marion took over the farm at Bottoms and kept the engineering business running in partnership, mostly fabricating open top slurry tankers, buckets, side stirrers and other essential agricultural equipment, before going on to fabricate steel portal frame buildings.
The first few sheds were built on their own steading to accommodate the growing dairy herd, before building the first shed for a local farming customer in 1992, while employing two full-time members of staff.
Fast forward more than 50 years and both enterprises have grown significantly, particularly in terms of expansion, as the family now owns 217ha (537 acres) of land and rents a further 28ha (70 acres).
In 2019, the family purchased the 53ha (132-acre) Wheatfield unit at Kilmaurs, which is now used for housing youngstock, producing silage, and wintering 90 to 100 cattle for another farmer.
Tom says: “The first parlour was installed at Bottoms in 1980, milking 60 cows on the original 70 acres. We started to gradually expand the dairy herd when I left school in 1994, which led to the purchase of additional land and development of the farm steading over the years.
“The original equipment was a 10 by 10 herringbone which was squeezed into the corner of the cubicle shed, before extending into the collecting area and updating to a 16 by 16 in 1999.
The set-up struggled to cope with the number of cows going through it twice-a-day. The cow flow to and from the parlour was a headache and there were too many steps and corners to turn which was detrimental to the cows and their feet.
This resulted in major renovations in 2020, with the completion of a new 61 metres long by 16m wide building which includes a collecting yard, parlour, dairy, plant room and office.
A new 20/40 GEA Westfalia parlour was also fitted, along with a bespoke rapid exit system designed and installed by the construction business.
The cows now come out of the cubicle shed and head straight into the parlour where they stand at 50 degrees.
They exit down a race both sides of the building next to the collecting area, resulting in no cows having to cross the front of the parlour and giving them time to make their way back to the cow shed comfortably after milking.
There are two segregation gates (one on each race) which allows any cows to be sorted back in behind the backing gate.
The whole set-up is now on one level and six months on, they are noticing big improvements in the cow’s feet. Additionally, the cows are not standing in the cramped collecting area for hours each end of the day as they were in the old system, which is a major benefit overall.
While cow health and comfort has been significantly improved, the new facility at Bottoms Farm has also made it a great working environment for staff, particularly when it comes to daylight and ventilation.
The 40mm composite roof cladding should keep the building warmer in the winter and cool in the summer, while the bespoke daylight ventilation louvre system –designed by William and installed by themselves – gives more light and ventilation through the parlour.
Tom says: “Our main cubicle building was built back in 2011 and has 210 cubicles but between the two farms, we have capacity for accommodating 470 cattle in cubicles.
“We use self-locking yokes in the cubicle shed and straw courts which makes it easier for cattle handling when we are testing for bovine tuberculosis, artificially inseminating or doing pregnancy diagnosis.”
“The slurry storage on-farm has also been increased to a total of 1,500,000 gallons, with a SRone robot scraper used to keep slats clean in the main cow shed.”
The herd is milked twice daily and cows average 33.2 litres per day, 4.32 per cent butterfat and 3.39 per cent protein, with somatic cell count currently running at 92.
Wet weather in the west of Scotland has led to the cows being housed inside all-year-round on slats and cubicles with access to out of parlour feed stations.
The family has found they are now more in control if the cows are kept inside and grass is better utilised for producing silage.
Cows calve all-year-round for steady milk production and are fed through the Keenan diet feeder using a ration which is designed to optimise price per litre, rather than cost per tonne, giving a more accurate gauge of efficient performance.
It is a cost-effective ration which helps achieve the requirements of the family’s milk contract, with nutrition advice provided by Harbro.
The farm also grows 69ha (170 acres) of cereals for their own use.
Tom says: “We like to keep the approach to nutrition simple, making use of homegrown cereals and forage as much as possible.
“Performance is regularly monitored with the milk monitor tool, so diets can be designed according to what the cows really need through their dynamic rumen friendly rationing programme.
“The cows are fed a Harbro compound which is made from quality sustainable raw materials. The nuts are both soya and palm kernel free and made at Harbro’s Lanarkshire mill.”
To ensure efficiency in all steps of reproduction, the family has been using Genus Reproductive Management Systems (RMS) for the past 14 years. Tom believes this is one of the most important jobs on the farm and by using RMS, he is not missing any detections while undertaking other contracting or engineering work.
Sexed semen was introduced two years ago for use on top performing cows as 95 per cent of the replacements within the herd are home-bred. Only a few special heifers are bought-in each year.
Other cows are bulled to a beef bull, either Limousin or British Blue for producing store cattle which are sold through the local market at 18-24 months of age.
In the last seven years, the engineering business has significantly grown after the introduction of CE marking for structural steel buildings, which resulted in a workshop extension in 2013 to 1,022sq.m. The building can also accommodate the fabrication of large portal steel frames.
Tom’s wife Louise is a chartered civil engineer and following the birth of their first daughter, she joined the business, allowing the team to be kept up-to-date with rules and regulations, while modernising office systems and computer aided drawings.
Tom’s brother-in-law David Young, is also involved in the engineering business, having over 20 years’ experience in the industry and takes care of the building projects on site.
The bulk of the work is mostly in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire although the business has undertaken a couple of large projects for customers further afield in the east coast of Scotland. They have also supplied kit buildings to Shetland.
Alongside the dairy and construction enterprises, Tom runs a forage contracting business, harvesting around 1,497ha (3,700 acres) of silage each year which includes their own crop.
All silage work is done in-house at Bottoms and Wheatfield although a contractor is brought in for combining, crimping, slurry work and spraying.
A 100KW solar panel system is also fitted to the rooves of the buildings at Bottoms Farm which has been a great benefit to the fabrication workshop, particularly when welding equipment uses up a lot of electricity during the day. The remaining electricity is sold into the grid.
There is also a rental income from two 250KW wind turbines on the land at Wheatfield Farm.
With a lot of diversification at the farm, the business relies on dependable and experienced staff to keep everything manageable.
Tom says: “A lot of farmers have moved to robotic milking due to the shortage of labour in the industry, which is understandable. We are hoping that our new modern and straight-forward system has created an environment that people enjoy working in.
"A lot of time and money has been invested into the expansion of the farm in the last 20 years and any future expansion of the herd can now be undertaken without significant expenditure. "
But with any farm business, Tom believes there are always areas requiring investment.
“Looking towards the future and the new stipulations of the Basic Payment Scheme from 2024, it looks like farmers may have to give more consideration to their environmental practices.”